The status of Winged Foot among America's great golf courses was best summarised by Dave Marr - the 1965 USPGA Champion and one time assistant professional at the club. He said Winged Foot "is to golf what Yankee Stadium is to baseball."

The course is famous for its exquisite bunkering and severely sloping greens, generally agreed as among the most demanding anywhere. So Michael Campbell will be walking on hallowed ground this week when he defends his US Open title at this golfing shrine only 40 minutes drive from Fifth Avenue.

Winged Foot opened in the 'Roaring 20s', one of the classic designs of the game's first celebrity architect, A.W. Tillinghast. His other work includes Baltusrol in New Jersey where Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship last August - and where Campbell finished 6th.

The club, with two 18-hole layouts, was originally founded by members of the New York Athletic Club. They took the winged foot symbol of Mercury, the god of speed, as their name. The West Course hosted a US Open as early as 1929, when Bobby Jones holed a four metre putt on the 72nd hole to make a playoff against Al Espinosa. Jones' sycophantic press called it "golf's greatest putt" but the next day he won the 36 hole playoff, incredibly by 23 shots.

Thirty years later, Billy Caspar took the first of his two US Opens at Winged Foot while, in 1974, the severe set-up of the course - narrow fairways, thick rough and slick greens - produced a winning score from Hale Irwin which was a remarkable seven-over par. No major championship has been won with such a total since.

Amidst the carnage, then USGA vice-president Sandy Tatum stated what has become the defining philosophy of the US Open and the way the courses are set up.

"We are not trying to humiliate the greatest players in the world," he said. "We're trying to identify them."

The most recent US Open there came in 1984 when Greg Norman and Fuzzy Zoeller became the only two players ever to finish an Open at Winged Foot under par. Zoeller won the 18-hole playoff.

In keeping with Tatum's mantra, this year's champion will again be identified by his accurate play from the tee, courageous putting and probably an ability to power the ball out of thick and lush rough. Fairways are between just 20 and 26 metres wide and the overseeded rough is cut at three lengths - 4, 8 and a frightening 15 centimetres.

We hope Campbell doesn't know this but, in the last 15 years, only two US Open champions, Woods and Retief Goosen, have placed better than 40th when defending their title.